Achieve Cybersecurity While Complying with HIPAA Standards

Posted on March 8, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Tony Jeffs, Cisco
The following is a guest post written by Tony Jeffs, Sr. Director, Product Management & Marketing, Global Government Solutions Group at Cisco.

Within the past 24 months, nine out of 10 hospitals in the U.S. have fallen victim to an attack or data breach, according to a recent report from the Ponemon Institute. The landscape of the healthcare IT industry is transforming rapidly due to significant changes in patient information management and today’s evolving threat landscape. Advancements in technology and government regulations have powered an explosive growth in the creation and storage of protected healthcare information (PHI). To prepare for new attacks targeting sensitive patient data, healthcare organizations need to recognize the risks of noncompliance and how the deployment of certified, secure, and trusted technologies will help ensure compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) standards.

According to the 2012 National Preparedness Report conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the healthcare industry is already prepared for many types of emergencies and contingencies. However, the same study showed that healthcare organizations are overall still unprepared for most cyber attacks.

The report highlighted that cybersecurity “was the single core capability where states had made the least amount of overall progress.” Of the state officials surveyed, merely 42 percent feel they are adequately prepared. The report also showed that in the last six years, less than two-thirds of all companies in the U.S. have sustained cyberattacks. From 2006 to 2010, the number of reported attacks in the U.S. rose by 650 percent. During the Aspen Security Forum last year, Keith B. Alexander, head of the National Security Agency and the new United States Cyber Command, indicated that the U.S. has seen a 17-fold rise in attacks against its infrastructure from 2009 through 2011.

In such an environment, it is a top priority for healthcare organizations to comply with HIPAA standards. Before the signing of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009, it was understood industry-wide that HIPAA was not strictly enforced. Under HITECH, healthcare providers could be penalized for “willful neglect” if they failed to demonstrate reasonable compliance with the Act. The penalties could be as high as $250,000 with fines for uncorrected violations costing up to $1.5 million.

In certain instances, HIPAA’s civil and criminal penalties now encompass business associates. While a citizen cannot directly sue their healthcare provider, the state attorney general could bring an action on behalf of state residents. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is now required to periodically audit covered entities and business associates. This implies that healthcare providers are required to have systems in place to monitor relationships and business practices to guarantee consistent security for all medical data.

If information systems are left vulnerable to attack, providers face significant risks to their business. These targeted attacks in the healthcare industry can come in a variety of forms. In Bakerfield, CA, the Kern Medical Center was attacked by a virus that crippled its computer systems. The hospital took approximately 10 days to bring the doctors and nurses back online. A Chicago hospital was attacked by a piece of malware that forced the hospital’s computers into a botnet controlled by the hacker. A year later, the hospital was still dealing with the attack’s aftermath. Following the theft of a computer tape containing unencrypted personal health information from an employee’s automobile, the DoD faced a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit. The Veterans Administration (VA) fought a two-year battle against intrusions into wireless networks and medical devices, including picture archiving and communication systems (PACS), glucometers and pharmacy dispensing cabinets.

Patients are protected against identity theft if medical information is encrypted and secured. Simultaneously, information must be kept readily available when necessary, such as for emergency personnel. The subsequent benefits are important in order to keep businesses competitive, including better quality of patient care, improved patient outcomes, increased productivity and workflow efficiency, better information at the point of care and improved and integrated communications between doctors and patients.

The Key to HIPAA Compliance

In order to meet the HITECH Act requirements, encryption must be used on the main service provider network as well as its associated partner networks. Encryption uses an algorithm to convert data in a document or file into an indecipherable format prior to being delivered, and then decrypts the data once received to prevent unauthorized personnel from accessing it. Successful use of encryption depends on the strength of the algorithm and the security of the decryption “key” or process when data is in motion and moving through a network or data is at rest in databases, file systems, or other structured storage methods.

In order to achieve HIPAA compliance, healthcare providers should leverage verified, certified network security products and architectures. Recommended by the HHS and mandated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for encryption, Federal Information Process Standard (FIPS) 140-2 encryption certified products reliably safeguard healthcare data with reliable and proven security in order to diminish risks without increasing costs.

Technologies that are fully FIPS-140 certified provide organizations a level of security that will remain compliant through at least 2030, unlike legacy cryptographic systems.

A New Degree of Confidence

Today, closed networks are almost nonexistent as most offices have Internet access, at the minimum. With the use of electronic transactions increasing in healthcare, including e-prescriptions and electronic communication, many medical organizations use open systems that necessitate the use of encryption technologies.

Technology providers can easily assert that a system is secure by using the highest level of encryption technologies on the market. With the degree of public visibility of breaches of trust, organizations have no reason to risk exposure with technology systems that fail to meet the FIPS 140-2 standard for data encryption. Without this certification, the cryptography function on the network has demonstrated a less than 50 percent chance of being correctly implemented, which also implies there is a 50 percent chance that the cryptography can be cracked. By purchasing solutions with FIPS validation, healthcare organizations achieve a new degree of reassurance that their critical data is secure, allowing them to minimize risk without an increase in costs.